What kind of ninja dresses like a road cone?
I’ve always found something fundamentally wrong with games like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur (despite my love for them). You can spend your entire life mastering all the moves and subtle nuances of a given character, only to lose to an eight-year-old mashing buttons; and Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is a welcome departure from that, as mashing buttons is really all there is to it.
[image1]Now I’m not one of those rabid, headband-wearing Naruto fans, scarfing down Pocky with one hand and shaking my fist in rue at the roundness of my eyes with the other. But I do like the series [Minus 418 points. ~Ed.]. It has a deep and engrossing plot, an enormous cast of (literally) colorful characters, and a ninja that turns into a giant badger made of sand. However, like any successful show, comic, or movie, the Naruto series suffers from a number of crappy, licensed game tie-ins; and as such, I was worried that Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm would bring home the gold at the Winter Olympics of Suck. However, it’s not that bad. Not actually good, mind you, so it still gets a ribbon for participation.
N:UN:S (nuns? WTF?) is the latest in a series of licensed fighting games based on its titular anime. It’s also a PS3 exclusive which makes it special. (Awww.) The only real improvement other than slightly better cel-shading is that all the combat is now in full 3D. This sounds good on paper, but results in a lot of missed attacks and awkward fights. You can also set the voice acting to the Japanese language track, particularly for those in the aforementioned headband crowd.
Gameplay is broken up into two parts: Free Battle Mode and Mission Mode, both of which are lacking. Free Battle Mode is your standard versus mode, where you and a friend, or you and the CPU, go head to head with one of 25 playable characters and two support characters. The combat is fun, and the controls are simple and intuitive, though for my money, the controls are too simple.
You have two attacks – a melee attack (which will wear out your ‘O’ button with how much hammering you’ll be doing), and a ranged attack which would have been useful if your shurikens weren’t made out of marshmallows and air. There are, of course, ridiculously over-the-top super-moves that only require one thumb to pull off (and that’s including the QTE), and I found that very refreshingly convenient. My main gripe is that despite the wide selection of characters, previous installments had more (Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 had 42!). There are also different super-moves and costumes (although not many) you can equip, all of which need to be unlocked in Mission Mode.
[image2]Mission Mode is technically an open-world game, in the same way that O’Doul’s is still technically beer. You run around the Village Hidden in the Leaves, interacting with only a handful of NPCs that don’t offer anything to the story while the other handful just stand there like cel-shaded scarecrows; and collecting various currencies to exchange for new moves and other more useless unlockables. There are also doors throughout the village that open only by setting a heavy object on a switch, though while carrying said object, Naruto moves with an excruciating lack of urgency. Most of these doors lead to new moves or items that will eventually lead to new moves, if you’re one of those hopeless obsessives who can’t sleep at night without 100% completion.
You initiate missions by way of the Pause Menu which is exactly as interesting and odd as it sounds. Missions are either key fights from the story, where you play as the good guy (despite the good guy being the loser in most cases) or racing, wherein Naruto jumps through the trees of a nearby forest, and you steer him out of harm’s way. While this little mini-game is fun (as it had better be, considering how many times you have to play the damn thing), it’s the only mini-game. Sure, there are two whole different kinds of races, but they’re both pretty much the same.
All battles have conditions that need to be met to taste the sweet, sweet taste of victory pie. These can range from something as simple as "beat the other guy" to "beat the stronger, faster, cooler, better-looking guy with invincible bullshit armor… in one hit". There are bonus conditions that will earn you more money, but they don’t tell you what they are until after you’ve beaten the level. And these aren’t retroactive, meaning that if one of these bonus conditions is to win in under 30 seconds, and you’ve already done this, you have to do it all over again for the game to recognize your hard work. In other words, it’s a total dick move.
Some boss fights in Mission Mode consist of hopping up and down, impotently waiting for a little reticule to appear and mashing O’ ‘until it goes away. Then there’s a quick time event. They’re not super great, but they break up the monotony of samey fights and running the same race for the million, billionth time.
[image3]The story in mission mode follows the show, but it does so by book ending each event with two or three sentences paraphrasing what led to the fight, which is a little insulting. I realize that wanting good storytelling from a fighting game smacks of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too; but since there was already a story to begin with, leaving it out is just lazy. You might argue that the story was left out for the sake of conserving space, but for what? Previous games in the series had considerably more cut-scenes, and they were on DVDs! A Blue-Ray disc can hold five times the amount of content of a DVD, so unless there’s a secret compartment filled with cake, then Namco is just wasting space.
Nearly every part of this game feels phoned in and with no online multi-player, I can’t help but be confused as to why there’s less content in this version than previous Naruto titles. The combat is in 3D, and you’ve been given a sandbox to run around in, but it skips a lot of the earlier story parts and about a dozen playable characters are dropped in the process. And why the hell isn’t there online multi-player!? PSN is free! Fighting games are meant to be played with other people! Leaving that out greatly depreciates the replay value. Maybe it was omitted in some strange attempt to get people to try to meet all the bonus conditions.
I can really only recommend Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm to the die-hard. And even then, I’d recommend older titles in the series, if you can find them.